What will you be giving your kids this holiday season? Clothes, books, the latest electronic gizmo? Let me suggest something truly unique that only you can provide: their family history.
A generation or two ago, kids would have picked up their history by listening to the extended family telling stories around the dinner table. But our families have grown more scattered, their lives are more hectic, so that happens less and less often. Kids don’t hear about how Great Grandma and Grandpa left Oklahoma to move to California, or what Uncle Joe did during the Second World War.
Unless we do something to actively preserve those stories, we find ourselves in the spot Robert DeNiro spoke of shortly after his mother died. He said, “One regret I have: I didn’t get as much of the family history as I could have for the kids.”
A lot of us think of our family history as a long list of facts to be recorded. “Just the facts, ma’am,” might have been fine for Joe Friday on Dragnet, but when you are talking to your kids about their family history, the best advice is to focus on the stories behind those facts.
It doesn’t matter how old your kids are, deep down, they’ll always be the five year old jumping up in your lap to say, “Tell me a story.”
As an editor I work with many people who want to collect their family stories and publish them in a memoir or family history book. That’s a great idea.
Being a writer is just one way to preserve family stories. Let’s look at another method you and your family might want to consider this holiday season: a story circle.
Begin planning your holiday gathering by thinking of some questions to talk about. They should be both factual and open ended. A question like, “What do you remember about the holidays at Grandma’s house?” can trigger all kinds of stories. Send your list out to family members before you get together to help jog their memories.
Plan your gathering to allow plenty of time for your family story circle. Ask relatives to tell their favorite family stories. As they do, you may be surprised at how the memories of others in the circle elicit details of a story or triggers a whole new story. Make sure to get audio recordings or video to capture the memories people share. Involve the kids by having them handle the audio or video. You can burn the recordings to CD and make sure everyone receives a copy.
Capturing your family’s stories will connect your kids with their heritage and their identity. What more meaningful gift could you give them?